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How are you building your cultural competence?

By Nancy Hegland

Image with selective focus over asphalt road and person's shoes with handwritten text - "your journey starts here"

During this calendar year, I am participating in the Racial Equity Leadership Institute, which is offered by the Facilitating Racial Equity Collaborative (FREC). The Institute is designed to increase understanding about race, racial identity, bias, and being anti-racist in a cross-section of educational settings and provide a forum to discuss new learning and translate it into action to change our education system. Each monthly session includes pre-work, a featured speaker and small group discussions, all via zoom technology. This past week, we focused on social identities and systems of oppression. During our small group discussion, I listened to others, shared my thoughts, and then wondered: What is the best way to build cultural competence?  

As a youth development professional, it is important to be an active listener, show empathy, and effectively engage with others. These competency behaviors help to create welcoming environments and establish an appreciation for similarities and differences. Too often, it seems programs are based on the past history of a group of similar people without exploring how it might feel for a new person from a different culture. We use acronyms, rush through announcements about events, and expect that youth want to do what was done in the past. It is essential to step back and reflect on the practices of youth organizations.

In the Nebraska Extension NebGuide Cultural Competence: An Important Skill Set for the 21st Century, authors shared that “Gaining cultural competence is a lifelong process of increasing self-awareness, developing social skills and behaviors around diversity, and gaining the ability to advocate for others.” They also shared the following tips.

Tips for building skills in cultural competence

Developing skills in cultural competence is a journey, which does not have an end point. Here are a few tips to move your development forward.

  • Increasing cultural and global knowledge – Learning about other cultures and being aware of current events is one way to learn about a culture’s practices, values, and beliefs. How have you been able to learn about other cultures?
  • Self-assessment – Reflecting on your own biases and prejudices helps to develop skills necessary to effectively interact and engage with individuals with cultural backgrounds different from your own. As you build your cultural competence, it is important to realize that everyone has biases. How have you reflected on your biases?
  • Building skills and putting them into action – Cultural competence involves being appreciative, affirming, and inclusive of all cultural backgrounds. What skills have you been able to improve?

While my experience with the Racial Equity Leadership Institute has increased my knowledge on various aspects of race, racial identity, and bias, I know that my journey to develop my cultural competence will always be just that – a journey and not a destination. What is next on your journey?

-- Nancy Hegland, Extension program leader

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  1. Thanks so much for this topic, Nancy, and for approaching it as ultimately such a reflective practice for each of us. Indeed, I find those questions essential to ask ourselves as we try to find the edge of our comfort zone, and recognize that connecting with others in a deep way requires us to step beyond that. One of the sensations I have become very familiar with is the nervous beating of my heart as I step into a new realm—of culture, of learning, of being challenged to do better. I appreciate you encouraging all of us to step into that new space of not knowing and be open learners.


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